With America’s Thanksgiving Day just around the corner, I’ve been inspired to blog about gratitude.
Gratitude is the conscious appreciation for a person or thing in one’s life.
Kinda crazy sounding, but the research is actually there to prove it!
Regular practice of gratitude has been shown to:
- To improve self awareness or mindfulness
- Decreased reports of pain
- Increased energy
- Decreased reports of depression and anxiety
- Increase heart rate variability (a reflection of both cardiovascular health and adrenal health)
- Lower cholesterol and blood pressure
Gratitude is one of those things I think it’s easy to think yeah I do that, I’m grateful, but may not necessarily practice daily.
I know for myself when I was younger had I been asked I would have said, “Yes I am SO grateful for all the many blessing in my life,” but when pushed to enumerate the things I am thankful for my list would have been about 3 items long.
In my personal experience as well as my observation in working with others I have found a few things to be consistently true when it comes to those who do/don’t practice gratitude.
I believe for those with a more optimistic outlook on life, practicing gratitude does indeed come a bit more easily.
However regardless of being an optimistic person, when surrounded by chronic stressors, like a bad job, unhealthy relationship, living with someone who is severely ill or you are chronically ill yourself, it is all too easy to become consumed by the stressors of every day life.
We can enter into “survival mode” and do not have the same flexibility of mind or parasympathetic nervous system tone for that matter, to easily tap into that reflective and restorative mental space to practice gratitude.
When I was in my doctoral program, sleep and money were limited commodities, school stressors and my internal drive to “succeed” were paramount.
I had many things to be thankful for, a sympathetic and supportive partner and family, I lived in a fabulous vibrant city with so much to offer a 20 something.
I shared a cute little condo in an ideal neighborhood with my soon to become husband, was a successful personal fitness trainer, and had a small network of good friends. I would not however say retrospectively that I was truly “happy.”
I probably would have said “I’m happy. I just need to get through X and then life will truly be great.”
I was grateful for the blessings I had in my life, however the focus of everyday life was really to just get through it, to survive.
I needed to study hard, do well in school and work so that I could eventually graduate, obtain my license and start a career. Only then could I have the pace of life that could afford me the luxury of time and be truly filled with joy.
In my head, at the time in my life in order to conceive of the positive impact of a daily gratitude exercise could have on my life this laundry list of things needed to be done first. There was just too much to do.
So, how did I get from there to a place where I experience gratitude in my everyday life?
For me it was being very ill.
Now I do not think you need have the same experience with chronic illness to learn these lessons, but for me, I think on some level it was the severity of the situation that forced me to have that wake up call.
I needed to slow down to heal.
I needed to develop the skills to assess and then respect the needs of my body. For me developing self compassion and love for my body, regardless of the limitations at that time, opened the door to my ability to see all that there was to be grateful for and to truly feel appreciation for all the people and things in my life no matter how big or small.
There are a number of ways you can work on building your gratitude muscle.
Here are a handful of the exercises that have been utilized in the positive outcome research on gratitude:
- Gratitude Journaling.
Making a daily habit of writing down one’s thoughts on the “gifts” you have in your life or positive occurrences of the day.
- Give thanks.
Write someone a thank you note, or verbally thank someone for something they did daily.
- Count your blessings.
On a daily or weekly basis, set a goal of writing or mentally noting the blessings, or things you are thankful for in your life.
Mindful meditation emphasizes being in the present moment without judgement. For some this is easier said than done, if you are just starting out with meditation you may choose to focus on a word or phrase, such as grateful, peace, abundance, or love.
I am so very grateful for all the abundance in my life, from my amazingly supportive and loving husband, friends, family and pup Percy, to the successful of business, opportunity to work with amazing people around the world and practice functional medicine, to the illness that led me to this work in the first place.
With love and appreciation in my heart I wish each a very one of you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.